"Suspicious" fire under investigation at historic church in Franklin County

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CALLAWAY, Va (WDBJ7) Officials in Franklin County are investigating what they say is a suspicious fire at a church near Callaway. No one was injured in the blaze, and the structure of the church, New Hope United Methodist, survived.

Members of the community are shaken by the fire.

"I don't understand why this happened," said Katherine Altice.
The church has been attended by generations here in Franklin County, including Altice's family.

"Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles," she said.

But Friday afternoon, it's clear no one will be attended services inside anytime soon. Burned pews and singed hymnals sit in the yard. Broken windows show a scorched interior.

Officials say the fire was spotted by a school bus driver about 6AM.
First responders from Rocky Mount and Callaway rushed to the scene.

"There was all kinds of flashing lights, from probably in the neighborhood of 5-7 fire trucks," said a neighbor, John Carmichael.

Carmichael says it was an impressive sight.

"Lotta smoke coming out of the building," he said.

Now investigators are trying to piece together how this could have happened. The Franklin County Sheriff hasn't said what caused this blaze, only that it was suspicious.

The preacher at New Hope, Amy Pannell, says services will still be held Sunday, but they'll be outside at the church's picnic tables.